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Two bodies found near jet crash site

RECIFE, Brazil - Searchers found two bodies and a briefcasecontaining a ticket for Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Oceanclose to where the jetliner is believed to have crashed, a Brazilmilitary official said Saturday.

The French agency investigating the disaster, meanwhile, saidairspeed instruments on the plane were not replaced as the makerrecommended before it disappeared in turbulent weather nearly aweek ago.

The French accident investigation agency, BEA, found the planereceived inconsistent airspeed readings from different instrumentsas it struggled in a massive thunderstorm on its flight from Rio deJaneiro to Paris with 228 people aboard.

Airbus had recommended that all its airline customers replacespeed-measuring instruments known as Pitot tubes on the A330, themodel used for Flight 447, said Paul-Louis Arslanian, the head ofthe agency.

"They hadn't yet been replaced" on the plane that crashed,said Alain Bouillard, head of the French investigation. Air Francedeclined immediate comment.

Arslanian of the BEA cautioned that it is too early to drawconclusions about the role of Pitot tubes in the crash, saying that"it does not mean that without replacing the Pitots that the A330was dangerous."

He told a news conference at the agency's headquarters nearParis that the crash of Flight 447 does not mean similar planes areunsafe, adding that he told family members not to worry aboutflying.

Airbus had made the recommendation for "a number of reasons,"he said.

The two male bodies were recovered Saturday morning about 45 miles south of where Air France Flight 447 emittedits last signals -- roughly 400 miles northeast ofthe Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast.

Brazilian air force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral said an AirFrance ticket was found inside a leather briefcase.

"It was confirmed with Air France that the ticket numbercorresponds to a passenger on the flight," he said.

Admiral Edison Lawrence said the bodies were being transportedto the Fernando de Noronha islands for identification. A backpackwith a vaccination card also was recovered.

The finds could potentially establish a more precise search areafor the crucial black box flight recorders that could tellinvestigators why the jet crashed, although Brazilian authoritiesrefused to comment on implications for the search.

Investigators have been searching a zone of several hundredsquare miles for debris. A blue plane seat witha serial number on it has been recovered -- but officials were stilltrying to confirm with Air France that it was a seat belonging toFlight 477.

The investigation is increasingly focused on whether externalinstruments may have iced over, confusing speed sensors and leadingcomputers to set the plane's speed too fast or slow -- a potentiallydeadly mistake in severe turbulence.

Pitot tubes, protruding from the wing or fuselage of a plane,feed airspeed sensors and are heated to prevent icing. A blocked ormalfunctioning Pitot tube could cause an airspeed sensor tomalfunction and cause the computer controlling the plane toaccelerate or decelerate in a potentially dangerous way.

Air France has already replaced the Pitots on another Airbusmodel, the 320, after its pilots reported similar problems with theinstrument, according to an Air France air safety report filed bypilots in January and obtained by The Associated Press.

The report followed an incident in which an Air France flightfrom Tokyo to Paris reported problems with its airspeed indicatorssimilar to those believed to have been encountered by Flight 447.In that case, the Pitot tubes were found to have been blocked byice.

"Following similar problems frequently encountered on the A320fleet, preventative actions have already been decided andapplied," the safety report says. The Pitots on all Air France'sA320s were retrofitted with new Pitots "less susceptible to theseweather conditions."

The same report says Air France decided to increase theinspection frequency for its A330 and A340 jets' Pitot tubes, butthat it had been waiting for a recommendation from Airbus beforeinstalling new Pitots.

As they try to locate the wreckage, investigators are relying on24 messages the plane sent automatically during the last minutes ofthe flight.

The signals show the plane's autopilot was not on, officialssaid, but it was not clear if the autopilot had been switched offby the pilots or had stopped working because it receivedconflicting airspeed readings.

The flight disappeared nearly four hours after takeoff, killingall on board. It was Air France's deadliest plane crash and theworld's worst commercial air accident since 2001.

The head of France's weather forecasting agency, Alain Ratier,said weather conditions at the time of the flight were notexceptional for the time of the year and region, which is known forviolent stormy weather.

On Thursday, European plane maker Airbus sent an advisory to alloperators of the A330 reminding them of how to handle the plane inconditions similar to those experienced by Flight 447.

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NationalTransportation Safety Board, said that advisory and the Air Francememo about replacing flight-speed instruments "certainly raisesquestions about whether the Pitot tubes, which are critical to thepilot's understanding of what's going on, were operatingeffectively."

Arslanian said it is vital to locate a small beacon called a"pinger" that should be attached to the cockpit voice and datarecorders, now presumed to be deep in the Atlantic.

"We have no guarantee that the pinger is attached to therecorders," he said.

Holding up a pinger in the palm of his hand, he said: "This iswhat we are looking for in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."

Currents could have scattered debris far along the ocean floor,he said.

President Barack Obama said at a news conference with FrenchPresident Nicolas Sarkozy Saturday that the United States hadauthorized all of the U.S. government's resources to helpinvestigate the crash.

BEA head Arslanian said U.S. forces have lent the agencyacoustic systems that will be fitted to two naval vessels. France'sEmeraude submarine and other high-tech equipment from French marineresearch institute Ifremer are also being sent to the region.

The submarine, to arrive next week, will try to detect signalsfrom the black boxes, said military spokesman Christophe Prazuck.


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